Once you decide to make a fresh start and to move on from the past, it’s great to be able to wipe the slate clean and just focus on the future. Some tattoos, however, aren’t so easy to get over, and can make us keep on looking back. But even the challenge of removing stubborn tattoos can be overcome once you commit to getting rid of them.
Let’s take a look at why some tattoos resist even today’s specially designed tattoo removal technology, and what might be done to remove them effectively.
Why are some tattoos so stubborn in the first place?
There are a number of factors that determine how difficult the tattoo removal process can be.
Tattoo Colour and Skin Colour. Some ink colours on some skin tones are easier to remove than others. This is because of the way
laser tattoo removal works: the laser zeroes in on the difference in colour or the contrast between the skin and the ink. After differentiating the ink colour from the skin colour, the laser breaks the ink colour down. This means that black ink on fair skin, for example, would come off easier than darker colours on sun-kissed skin tones. Black ink is generally the easiest colour to remove, while ink containing red, brown, white or flesh-coloured pigments are more difficult to erase according to this study. These colours make it harder for the laser to distinguish between the skin and the ink.Other colours are that are particularly difficult, if not practically impossible to remove without a trace include light blue, purple, orange and yellow.
Tattoo Size. Smaller tattoos are easier to remove than larger ones, since larger tattoos will need more laser pulses. And since the tattoo removal process does come with some degree of pain (even with a numbing gel or cream), removing tattoos covering a larger area of skin takes longer and would therefore hurt longer.
Tattoo Age. This refers to how long the tattoo has been on the skin—the older a tattoo is, the easier it will be for the laser to break up the colour. This is because the ink in older tattoos have had more time to disperse towards the skin surface.
Tattoo Quality. High quality tattoos done by professional tattoo artists are more difficult to remove than amateur or DIY jobs.
The ink in professional tattoos is inserted deeper into the skin, with more ink colours of higher quality being used in a single design. These designs also tend to be more detailed and complex. Since different colours may need different types of laser to remove as suggested by this study, removing tattoos by legitimate tattooists may become more tedious.
On the other hand, amateur tattoos aren’t usually as deeply embedded into the skin and use just one colour (usually black) of lower quality ink, making them easier to remove. The designs of these tattoos are also likely to be smaller and much simpler.
Body chemistry. The laser tattoo removal process involves the body’s immune system, which means how well the body is able to eliminate the ink, and how well the skin is able to recover varies between individuals. Some people, for instance, are more prone to scarring, which is a potential side effect of tattoo removal.
And because darker skin has more melanin, removing a tattoo from it likewise carries a greater chance of “ghosting” or whitish traces of the tattoo design. There’s a possibility of the laser breaking down the skin’s natural pigment along with the ink pigment, with the natural pigment usually being the first to be targeted.
Tattoo Location. Tattoos can also be harder or easier to remove depending on where on the body they are. If a tattoo is in an area that has more veins or is closer to the heart, the easier it will be for the body to eliminate the ink. This makes a facial tattoo easier to remove than one on the lower back, and tattoos on the hands and feet more difficult.
- Laser type.
Finally, the type of laser used affects how easy the tattoo removal process will be. More powerful lasers, for instance, will be needed to remove tattoos with darker colours. Q-switched nanosecond lasers, or lasers that administer laser pulses in nanoseconds, have been commonly used in tattoo removal for years.
Today, picosecond lasers such as PicoWay ®, which administer laser pulses in picoseconds are now also used to remove tattoos.
What can be done to remove stubborn tattoos effectively?
Put simply (and straightforwardly), there’s a high probability that a stubborn tattoo will not be able to be removed completely, i.e. zero trace, like the tattoo had never, ever been there. Even if the tattoo is removed completely, it’s not likely that the skin itself will be exactly the way it was before it got inked.
However, the effective removal of a stubborn tattoo is possible—not easy, quick or painless, but possible. Here’s how.
Resist the temptation to do it yourself. While the frustration of being unable to remove a stubborn tattoo is understandable, it’s inadvisable to take matters into your own hands. You may have heard of methods you can use at home such as creams or salt scrubs, but these methods yield questionable (if any) results and might even damage your skin badly.
Do your homework. You do have options for getting rid of a stubborn tattoo, and doing research on each of them is recommended. It’s important for you to know what to expect—such as how much it will hurt or
how much it will cost —as well as the risks involved.
Surgical tattoo removal is one such option, where the tattooed skin is literally cut out and the remaining skin is then sewn together. The usual risks that come with surgery include scarring, bleeding and infection.
Another way to remove a tattoo via surgery involves scraping off the skin’s outer layer in a process called dermabrasion. While this process is known for treating wrinkles and acne scars, its effectiveness on stubborn tattoos is very limited.
Still another way to surgically remove tattoos involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze the tattooed skin off in a process called cryotherapy. Again, while this procedure is known for treating skin lesions such as warts, it’s also considered too risky as a tattoo removal process.
Given the risks of surgery and the inefficiency of home remedies, you may want to consider laser tattoo removal as a non-surgical and effective way to remove stubborn tattoos.
Choose a good doctor. Because of the many factors that affect the stubbornness of a tattoo, choosing a creditable clinic (instead of a tattoo studio or a spa) where you can get individualised advice and plan the tattoo removal process accordingly is highly recommended. The doctor must have the relevant training and experience, have the right facilities and equipment, and be able to advise you as to whether tattoo removal is right for you.
Be patient and commit to your treatment. Removing a stubborn tattoo effectively is not a one-time, zap-and-go treatment but a series of regular treatments that can take as long as several months. It’s important to manage your expectations during the entire process.
Allow your body enough time to heal. The body’s immune system needs time to eliminate the ink that is broken down during the tattoo removal process, and the skin also needs time to recuperate from the stress of being subjected to the treatment. Rushing treatment by undergoing successive sessions too soon might cause permanent skin damage.
Take care of the tattoo removal site. The skin where a stubborn tattoo is being removed can be extra sensitive, and will therefore need extra care to prevent infection and lessen scarring as much as possible.
Try to keep heavy-duty physical activities to a minimum to keep any swelling or itching from flaring up. If the tattoo removal site does get itchy or scabby, make sure you don’t scratch, peel or pick at it. It’s likewise important to keep the site covered or away from direct sunlight, or at least well-protected with a good sunblock.
Also, be aware that alcoholic drinks interfere with the performance of the kidneys and liver, which both have a key part to play in eliminating the tattoo ink from your body. A stubborn tattoo would therefore take even longer to remove with a drinking habit.
Finally, make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions in between treatments, which may include applying antibiotic cream.
Don’t give up on removing stubborn tattoos. Talk to us at The Aesthetics Centre to find the right tattoo removal process for you.